Taking Kids with Autism to the Renaissance Fair

Renaissance fairs are a yearly tradition across the United States. They vary in size and location but are always a lot of fun for the whole family. Kids with Autism can still have a fun time with enough preparation. Celebrating the Renaissance era, in historical and not-so-historical context is a unique experience, from the food to shows and the shopping.

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What are Renaissance Fairs?

Renaissance fairs are a celebration of the Renaissance era and all things fun and fantastical. Shows take place in Summer or early Fall. They can last a weekend or can b a month long.
Be sure to plan in advance, as a lot of multi-week fairs have themed weekends. It could be extra special if your child favors fairies or pirates!
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Price to attend

Entry fees can vary widely depending on the fair and location.
Most fairs offer tickets in advance online so you can skip the lines at the ticket booth.

Fairs are almost always busy, but most have plenty of room once you get in. Local grocery stores and shops often carry coupons for discounted admission.

 

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Parking is usually free, but some places may charge. Because these fairs take place in open spaces, parking is generally not in a paved lot. Wear good walking shoes! The terrain can consist of gravel, dirt, grass, or pavement. Some venues offer paved walkways, but this isn’t always the case. A lot of venues are flexible enough to allow in strollers or even wagons for young kids to ride in. Just know that it could be traveling over bumpy ground.

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What to expect

Everyone is welcome to attend. You’ll see everyone from senior citizens to newborn infants enjoying the sights.
There are comedic performances, magic shows, animal shows and more to watch. Most places post schedules online and in the map and brochure at the front gates or info booths. Performances are entertaining and are interactive.

Parents need to figure out what shows you would like to see so you can get there in plenty of time to get enough seating. Seating often consists of bleachers, benches, or chairs. Some people bring their camp chairs to set up wherever they need. Bigger events like jousting usually have bleacher risers and ground seating.

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What are the noise levels?

Again, because everything is outside, it is sometimes difficult to hear performers in some venues with the crowds’ background noise. Take this into consideration when attending with a sound sensitive child or a child that has trouble focusing if a lot is going on around them.
Some venues place staged areas a little off the beaten path to cut extra noise. Do consult the map or take a quick walking tour to the stage that holds the show you want to see. You can then gauge the level of disruption.

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Interactive activities

Some fairs will have a craft tent specifically for kids. Kids can make their own project and take it home. Some feature a project once per hour, and some are offered only once or twice per day. Depending on the venue, some are free, and others require an extra fee.
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Be sure to visit the Royal Court!

Every fair has one made up at a minimum of the Queen and her ladies. Some fairs will have a king and queen and multiple royal members. They often have their tent and will host an afternoon tea or luncheon that anyone can attend for an additional fee. They walk the rounds through the fairgrounds every couple of hours and will happily greet “commoners.”

Attending the court is a great history lesson at some fairs! Some portray real historical queens and kings and often know a lot about their monarch if questioned.

 

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There are some events like jousting, knight battles, or pirate fights, that might be too noisy for some children. Keep in mind that sometimes the pirates do fire cannons at some events that are very loud. The cannon fires at specific times, so parents to noise sensitive kids can plan accordingly.
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Dining options

Most fairs offer a variety of foods.
You’ll see the traditional offerings of giant turkey legs and pot pies as well as more modern offerings of hamburgers and fries. Most events will list which food vendors will be there so you can check ahead of time to make sure there is something everyone likes. Sodas, water, teas, and frozen lemonades are usually readily available. Ice cream and snow cones are popular on hot days.

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Many recommend planning for food runs, as the lines can get long at popular vendors during usual lunch and dinner times. It’s often a good idea to have one person wait in lines to get the foods and have the other take the kids to do something fun during the wait.

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Shopping

You will find all sorts of vendors at the fair. Many artisans have handcrafted wares. These might include glassware, woodworking, leather-works, art, and more. Costume shops are plentiful so you can check out the typical dress-up styles. Many cater to kids with toy swords and shields and fairy wings and wands. It is just as fun to browse as to buy. Be aware that vendors usually have to pay a premium to get a spot to sell from, so prices are a little higher than you would see outside of the fair.
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Amenities

Amenities will vary by the venue.
Most fairs will have various groups of port-a-potties scattered throughout the fair. This could be an issue for kids sensitive to the smell. Some might have issues with sitting above a dark opening which sometimes has a breeze. If this is the case, consider a portable toilet if your child will use one.
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Many will also have hand washing stations so you can clean up. At least hand sanitizer is most often provided. If there are any petting zoos, hand sanitizer will also be available in these spots as well.

Usually, there are no drinking fountains for free drinking water. It’s best to bring your own, or you can always buy from the vendors.

Visitors should know that there is quite a bit of walking at the fair.The only places to sit and rest are on grass or empty stage areas. So make a note of where the best-shaded spots are, to have a place nearby if anyone needs a rest.
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Accommodations

Most fairs are as accommodating as possible for any and all. However, while the fairs do have a general staff, the performers and vendors are all independent operators. Most staff get paid minimum wage, and many are volunteers. For most this as a temporary gig, so don’t expect a lot of training or consistency in answers.

With that said, it does not mean they won’t do their best help out, but they might not know enough to help children with autism in certain situations.
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Autism travel tips

Due to crowds, it is always a good idea to take a current photo of your child that day of the event to have in case of separation. Temporary tattoos are perfect for kids that have trouble communicating or are non-verbal. There are not a lot of fair staff, but some security is usually available as a point of contact.

Fairs are put on during some the hottest months of the year, parents need to come prepared.Bring sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water. everything takes place outside, although some shops and booths have overhead covers. Check the weather ahead of time and be prepared for anything. The fair happens rain or shine.

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For your first year, it’s probably best to just go in comfortable clothes and skip costumes. While there you can see how people dress up and the shops carry plenty of costumes for purchase if you decide to dress up.

It is also quite typical that anyone in costume is very kind and helpful. Most are patrons, just like you. If your child sees someone in costume they particularly like, they can ask for a picture; most people are very friendly and accommodating.

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You can find quiet, less crowded spots in most venues. There are multiple stages, but shows are often rotated, so you can find a performance area with seating that has nothing going on.

It is best always to have a plan discussed in the case of separation. Set a meetup point that is easy to find and keep your phone charged and on you at all times.
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Renaissance Fairs are wonderful, but with so much to do and see they can be a bit overwhelming. Be ready to take breaks and relax. There is no need to see everything; it’ll always be back next year!

Special thanks to Jenne and Kai D’Amian for providing cherished family photos.

 

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